Saturday, August 1, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 2, 2015

Taliban kaleidoscope Just two days after the news broke of Afghan Taliban leader Mulla Omar’s death, another bit of startling news about the passing away of Jalaluddin Haqqani, formidable fighter and commander during the anti-Soviet resistance and the founder of the dreaded Haqqani network, has come to the surface. But just like the news of Mulla Omar’s death was followed by contradictory reports confirming and denying the news, with the controversy only being laid to rest by an official confirmation from the Taliban and the election of a new leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani’s news has also evoked contradictory responses. While Taliban sources assert he is dead, some family members dispute this and say he is ailing but very much alive. Both instances point to the shadowy existence and functioning of the underground Taliban and Haqqani organisations. Whereas the question of the successor to Mulla Omar has raised quite a bit of dust despite the Taliban leadership having announced that Mulla Mansour had been elected as leader of the faithful, there would not be any similar ruction over Jalaluddin Haqqani’s successor if the news of his death is finally confirmed since he had already effectively handed over control of the organisation to his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has now also been elected a deputy to Mulla Mansour. The news of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s passing away nevertheless has evoked considerable interest since the network he created is much feared for its spectacular suicide attacks in Afghanistan against American targets, a raid on Kabul’s top hotel, the assassination attempt on former president Hamid Karzai and the suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul. The Haqqanis are widely believed to be close to Pakistan’s ISI. Jalaluddin Haqqani graduated from the school of resistance to Sardar Daud’s Islamist forces’ suppression in the early 1970s to the struggle against the Afghan Communist Revolution and later the Soviet invasion from his base in North Waziristan. He made his reputation in the field even then as a formidable foe. When the Taliban took power in Kabul, he switched sides and became a minister in Mulla Omar’s government. The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 after 9/11 saw him retreat once again to his happy hunting ground in North Waziristan and from there he organised with the help of his son Sirajuddin, the revival of the Taliban insurgency against the US and NATO forces. During these wars, Jalaluddin Haqqani is said to have lost two sons, two wives, numerous grandchildren to his enemies, mostly the western forces in Afghanistan. One son, Nasiruddin, reputed to be the Haqqani network’s fundraiser, was killed in Bara Kahu near Islamabad in mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile the dust raised by the announcement of Mulla Omar’s death two years ago and the election of Mulla Mansour as his successor has still to die down. Reportedly, some factions coalescing around Mulla Omar’s son Yaqoob are said to have walked out of the leadership meeting deciding the succession. This group is now said to be contacting other commanders for cooperation to form their own faction. Should that transpire, there is no ruling out conflict between the rival Taliban factions now or in the future. This kaleidoscopic forming and reforming of the Taliban ranks has thrown up questions about the fate of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Murree Peace Process, as it has been dubbed after the location of the first round of talks in Pakistan, has been variously described by analysts as dead in the water, postponed, or awaiting the dust swirls to settle before resuming. Only time will tell which of these possibilities finally emerges. One sign of the complexity of the situation is the report from BBC’s Kabul correspondent that Mulla Mansour has attempted to distance himself from the public perception of him being a pro-Pakistan peace talks supporter. The report quotes an audio message by the newly elected Taliban leader purportedly denying any rifts within the Taliban and dismissing reports of him being a supporter of the peace talks as enemy propaganda. This is surprising since he was widely regarded as pro-talks. However, there may be more to this than meets the eye and Mulla Mansour may simply be trying to bolster his militant credentials by denying his image of a ‘peacenik’. The test of this, or any opposite proposition, lies in the early or later resumption of the talks process, and his stance on it then. Truly, the Afghan Taliban scenario resembles nothing better at present than a shifting kaleidoscope.

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